Loner in the Garret and Other Books to Keep You Company While Writing

by | Feb 1, 2019

Everyone who writes has days when they wonder what they heck they are doing. On a good day you can move past that and put some words on a page. On a bad day, you binge watch Frankie and Grace on Netflix, am I right?

But a book I recently re-read is a must for everyone who ever struggles with their writing (in other words, everyone who writes). Loner in the Garret: A Writers Companion by Jennifer Hubbard (Curtis Brown Unlimited 2015), has more than 75 brief reflections on the things that keep us from writing. Everything from solitude and your inner critic to scams and sickness. The other day I re-discovered it when I was at the gym slogging through my stationary bike workout and Hubbard’s words even buoyed me there!

Here’s part of a section, this one titled “Perseverance,” to give you an idea of her messages. It really resonated with me recently: “I’ve heard it said many times that the most successful writers are not necessarily those with the greatest innate talent. Instead they are the ones who show up every day. … The ones who simply don’t give up… They listen, study, revise, go deeper. They hone their skills…They work through the aches of early training, the boredom of repetitious exercises, the crushing monotony of rejection after rejection.”  

When I read that I felt like saying “sing it, sister!” I didn’t used to think I had perseverance, but as I look back over the last almost 10 years, I realize, I DO! Maybe not every single minute of every single day, but I keep getting back up on my writing horse. And realizing that is a joy to me. To look back over those years and to see that I have studied, revised and gotten better. Not perfect, never perfect, but I’m trending in the right direction. This is a gift that this book gave me last week. And, lo and behold, this week I heard from an agent who wanted to see my full manuscript and I moved forward on a different manuscript. I’m not saying there was a direct correlation to my reading Loner and what happened this week, but I’m not saying there wasn’t, either!

My only regret is that Loner appears to only be available as an ebook. I would like to have this on my shelf and every morning before I begin to write dip into it, read a single entry and then, hitch up my spurs and ride on.

Speaking of books that help me get my writing day started and otherwise keep me company in my lonely pursuit, I do have several others I also visit with. Some are specific to writing, but many are not. There are time management ones like Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock and Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out, because who doesn’t think that a perfect organization system will guarantee us a productive day? I admit I also am an addict of a certain type of self-help book, anything with the word de-clutter in the title is irresistible…

I recently discovered another book that is less time management and more getting to the root of the desire to manage that time. Choose Wonder Over Worry: Move beyond fear and doubt to unlock your full potential, by Amber Rae (Wednesday Books), addresses similar issues to Loner in the Garret, though not specifically having to do with writing.  Chapter titles include uncertainty, imposter syndrome, jealousy, fear, you get the idea. I can’t remember where I heard about it, but I found it in our library and, while I might not buy into everything the author says, who doesn’t want to realize their full potential? I think that is at the root of all the books out there about habit formation, not to mention the appeal of bullet journals; we all have a limited time on earth and we don’t want to waste any of that time.

But books specific to the writing life are also helpful. When I sit at my desk and wonder how can I be a writer when I just lost an hour on Twitter or didn’t once work on my novel in progress, these books help me know that others have days like that too. In Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, for example, he writes a lot about the writing life. These are books that don’t give you advice about how to write, they give you a window into other writers’ efforts, which give you a sense of where you fit in that world.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is probably the first book I read like this, that gives you a window into a writer’s own personal worries and struggles. Before I read this book most books on writing were prescriptive, things like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. These kinds of books, pronouncements from established writers have their place, but when I’m feeling a ton of self-doubt and anxiety, give me Anne Lamott of E.B. White any day.

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